Burning Holiday: Day 1.
Date: Wednesday 4th March, 2015
Distance: 105.1km | Elevation: 1,047m
Destinations: New Cross – Box Hill – Reigate – Esher – Virginia Water
Start kms: 667km | Finish kms: 772.1km | % complete: 7.7%
As the end of my working year comes to an end, I’ve found myself with a few holidays left and little to do with them. Ashley, my fiancée, has long-used all of hers and my friends aren’t far from doing the same. Any form of long-distance travel was therefore off the cards unless I wanted to take it on solo (and I didn’t).
There was another option, though.
Ashley often finds herself working a little outside of London for weeks at a time and we’ve long talked about the possibility of me heading out mid-week to visit. Unfortunately, dates and times have never quite aligned — until now.
With her based in Wentworth for a fortnight, I got to planning a 2-day route that would take me out of London and back and allow me to spend a bit more time with her.
A quick aside on route planning. Whereas once it was an involved and time-consuming process involving physical maps, pencils and, potentially, some form of measuring device, it’s now a sinch. A few minutes with Google Maps, some choice destinations and a quick reccy via street view and all that’s left to do is attach my iPhone to my handlebars and I’m set.
In the past, defaulting to laps of Richmond or Regents Park took any major thought or and this kind of involved, time-consuming planning out of a ride – better the devil you know than the devil that leaves you stranded at the side of the road with a puncture with the day closing in and struggling with a hard-copy map in a headwind. Now, it’s easier than ever to just head out and see new places and explore new routes, safe in the knowledge you’ll make it where you’re going or back to where you started.
Setting out mid-morning on day one, my first rest stop was Reigate via the iconic Box Hill.
Despite its legendary status amongst cyclists, I’ve only ever had two experiences with the eponymous climb. The first was part of a 110-mile sportive that 2 friends and I naively signed-up to 2 and a half years ago. Over-excited amateurs that we were, we opted for the epic route.
In for a penny, in for a pound.
What we failed to do was prepare in any way. Turning up on the day, one of us was on a hybrid commuter bike that was some good 4 inches too small for him and none of us had an inner tube or bike tool between us. Unsurprisingly, only one of us (yours truly) managed to make it through to the end — whether that’s incredibly lucky or woefully unfortunate depends on how well you’re able to drag yourself up a lot of testing hills solo.
I thought it woefully unfortunate and that was without completing the full course. Box Hill eventually alluded me (or I it) as daylight disappeared and, from the train journey back to London onwards, I subsequently began thinking of it as an Everest-like summit that would likely destroy me were I ever likely to encounter it.
And for the record, we’re still over-excited amateurs, but these days we’re ones that turn up somewhat prepared.
My second visit involved descending it on the way to Eastleigh — definitely the easier direction to take on Box Hill if you’re planning a visit.
On this basis, the climb was either going to be a one of gargantuan proportions or it was going to be a walk in the park.
The reality turned out to be somewhere in between.
Box Hill does not demand that you bring yourself immediately out of the saddle and, red-faced and breathing out of your arse, hunch yourself over your handlebars. Instead, its the kind of climb that allows you to plant yourself firmly into your saddle, hands on the straight of your handlebars and methodically inch your way up each segment. It may have been the effects of the one of the warmest days of the year so far, but it it was actually incredibly enjoyable. The smooth roads give way to depths of trees. Hairpin bends break the climb into chunks that make you feel you’re completing a level at each turn. The words of encouragement sprayed onto the tarmac — “Go Froome Go!”, “Allez!” and, my favourite,“Where’s Cav?” — make you feel like a little bit like a pro. That is until you remind yourself you’re in your lowest possible gear.
The views from the top aren’t half bad, either.
Down into Reigate, my first stop was at 1 of 2 well-known cycling cafes I’d decided to design my route around: Maison du Velo. As much as I hate to admit it, my reliance on my iPhone to get me to my final destination of the day meant I had become that person. Whilst I placed my order, I fumbled around in my jersey pocket for my iPhone charger and, before I’d even handed over my credit card to pay, was asking to be pointed towards the nearest power outlet. Yup — that guy. No one likes that guy.
Hopefully the copious amounts of coffee, eggs and cake I consumed went some way to forming an implicit apology.
My device and I adequately recharged, it was back the way I’d come until veering off at Leatherhead and into an area I found myself to recognise: Esher.
It was only a few months back I’d ridden out to Esher and back as part of a Strava challenge that involved a free mug (it doesn’t take much). A 60-70km round-trip from central London is G!RO Cafe, which makes for a well-located halfway point and serves what must be the best cup of coffee for a fair few miles around. I’d not planned to visit again, and it had only been about 30km since my last stop, but it would’ve been rude not to stop in briefly and enjoy their wares.
The weather having been so good, the sun was setting fairly spectacularly as I passed through Hersham and Chertsey and weaved my through the lanes and roads of Wentworth Club. I’d envisaged a grand entrance and perhaps a long, manor-style drive, but did not think I would be navigating an entire estate of mansions and well-kept gardens. It was only now that I understood why Ashley had insisted she pack a shirt and jacket for me to wear to dinner — this place was unlikely to be lycra friendly.
I soon found the right road and the hotel itself, where I knew a comfortable bed, a warm shower, a 3-course meal and Ashley were waiting for me — along with a glass of delicious dessert wine.